Bad Air, Bad Hair

February 24, 2009By Nick WoodsTales of la Ville

Bad Air, Bad Hair

pollution police paris
The pollution police on the Place de la République, stopping cars to check their emission levels.

“What’s that in your hair, Nick?” asked a friend during a recent, over-priced macrobiotic meal in the fifth arrondissement. “Dunno. What are you talking about?” “Looks like you’ve got a clump of hair wax stuck in there.”

I wanted to say that I hadn’t worn hair wax since the days of my French crop hairstyle when it became fashionable in London during my mid-20s, but I already had a hunch as to what it was and so made my excuses and sloped off to the toilet, the foreign body still doggedly attached. It wasn’t in fact the first time someone had said something similar over the dinner table, before proceeding to extract a large pellicule from my hair. The truth is that Paris has given me dandruff, and flakes of it the size of which leave me rather breathless.

I have never suffered from dandruff before, and having searched all the Internet doctor web sites to find any seemingly probable causes, the best contributive factors I have come up with are stress and air pollution, in my case probably both at the same time: the stress of having to live with air pollution.

It has not escaped my notice that the air in Paris is unforgivably polluted. I remember a friend commenting about a year ago about how her blonde hair had turned brown as a result of it. I also remember looking out of a window in the 20th arrondissement one day and seeing that the bottom half of the Eiffel Tower had been blotted out by a brown cloud of pollution, and then later reading in a magazine that not one street in Paris meets the EU guidelines for clean air, all of which is trashing my own personal directive for clean hair.

There is not a lot of manufacturing industry going on in modern, service-sector Paris, so I am pointing the accusatory finger at transportation: the delivery trucks puffing along the main boulevards, the cars clogging up quaint medieval streets with carbon monoxide, the motorcycles the lads love but are no less guilty than four-wheeled vehicles ( even more so, according to some studies) of dirtying the atmosphere with pollution and greenhouse gases. (I let buses off lightly here as they at least convey a group of people from A to B, but they are nonetheless a contributory factor.) Paris is chockfull of fumes, with the situation rounded off nicely by the eight-lane périphérique ringing the city.

I once took an Ashtanga yoga class in a ground-floor studio near St. Paul. The idea is to breathe in and exhale deeply throughout the entire one-and-a-half hour practice, but there’s little point when all you are doing is inhaling exhaust fumes and poisoning the purification process. I was amazed how used to it the Parisians yogis had become.

My general hard-line (and I admit it, utopian) policy on pollution is that humans have no right to leave the planet in a worse state at the end of each day than they found it at the beginning. The planet hosts us and we need to show it respect. When I arrived in Paris, I was surprised that it hadn’t already followed London and introduced some kind of congestion charge, especially as you can get from the outskirts of Paris to the center in around 30 minutes on the Métro (a good deal faster than in London), so the Métro must be quicker than a car anyway.

The Vélib system is cute but it is only really a small plaster on a much bigger gash in Paris’s environmental problem.

There are myriad possible solutions to the pollution issue in Paris – some of which have already been put into place but could be further expanded, like car-free days in different areas on the weekends, for example, giving us all somewhere clean to go and spend time – but politics is more about the economy, the ability to breathe coming in lower down on the political agenda. Maybe if Sarko*, who is reportedly an extraordinarily vain man, got a good bout of dandruff, it would be enough to make him reconsider his priorities.

Nick Woods

*French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Reader Wendy Patterson writes: “I was interested to read that you, too, were pestered by dandruff in Paris! I have never had dandruff before but when we stayed in a rue Pecquay apartment in December, I certainly did develop it! My head was so itchy too!

“Now that we are back at our apartment in the 17th, I have my favorite”natural” shampoo and the water just seems better. My scalp has completely cleared up.

“I don’t know why the water would be so different, but it just seemed harder in the apartment. My understanding is that our skin and scalp is healthiest with a slightly acid ‘mantle’ and the hard water would interfere with that, making it more basic rather than acid.

“One thing that did provide some relief was to rinse my scalp with diluted solution of vinegar and water. It made my hair shiny and soothed the itchiness.

“Good luck with your condition!”

© 2009 Paris Update

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